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Illustrating Women in Science
SKEPTICALITY EPISODE 277

In this episode of Skepticality, Derek talks with illustrator/author Rachel Ignotofsky. Once an illustrator for Hallmark Greeting cards, she now uses her talent for making easy to understand and attractive art to create works that teach people about science and history. Her first book, Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World (recently released), is an illustrated encyclopedia of women in history (both well- and lesser-known) who have made significant contributions to science. Find out more about Rachel and what drove her to shift her career to focus on education and the history of science.

Get the Skepticality App — the Official Podcast App of Skeptic Magazine — so you can enjoy your science fix and engaging interviews on the go! Available for iOS, Android, and Windows.

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011), remixed by W. Bull from original photograph by Fri Tanke [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

A Betrayal of Confidence: A Review of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

by Kathleen J. Schultheis

“I have written a wicked book and feel as spotless as the lamb,” wrote Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, upon finishing Moby Dick. Larry Taunton in his memoir The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, has written no Moby Dick, but rather a narrow, self-serving, deceptive little book. Yet, Taunton does feel quite spotless, untroubled by the fact that he has betrayed the confidence of a dying man who trusted him and is now aiming to profit by that betrayal. To the audience of Socrates in the City, his parting words were not “RIP, Christopher Hitchens,” but “Go out and buy truckloads of books.”

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (book cover)

So, Larry Taunton has Judas-kissed and told, and the interesting man who is the subject of this petulant tell-all is made to look vain and shabby. In interview after interview, Taunton is quite smug, soothing his conscience that he has disinterred this icon of the Left, so that others might see the real figure, the struggling human being, who was too prideful to believe. Taunton sees himself not as an opportunist capitalizing on the fame of a controversial figure who cannot sue, but as a simple man of the cloth, ministering to Hitchens in his final days, urging him to come to Jesus. But Hitchens, Taunton suggests, was too concerned about his post mortem life in the public imagination and so would not give up his most defining trait: rage at a God who represented his father whom he hated along with the frustrated homosexuality that Taunton implies was part of Hitchens’ character.

Winning Hitchens’ soul is never what Taunton was after, but something far more primitive: to dishonor a man who represents his father, but one who cannot/could not fight back.

The Christopher Hitchens who emerges in Taunton’s account of their relationship is vain, cheap, vulgar, “dogmatic,” “condescending,” “alcoholic, “gigolo”- like, and above all a fraud. Taunton works very hard to prove that the Hitchens one saw debate was not the real man at all. The glorious cut-glass English accent, the Richard Burtonesque voice – these, according to Taunton, were the affectations of a working class boy with an ambitious mother who sent him off to British boarding schools the family could ill afford to learn the manner and style of the upper class. In actual life, according to Taunton, Hitchens was no “champion of the oppressed,” but rather a tyrannical, childish man who railed at the underclass whom he both hated and feared. Hitchens’ legendary skill in debate? This Taunton dismisses as style over substance and crows about his own debate with the dying Hitchens. By the time Hitchens debated Taunton, he was three months from death. Taunton confesses to having prepared for the debate by watching Hitchens on YouTube in a manner that recalls Max Schmelling viewing old films of Joe Louis to “discover” the great fighter’s glass jaw. Taunton states that he went into the debate, calm in his conviction that Hitchens was an “actor”—that he “fake[d] an understanding of Dostoevsky or Pascal,” that he intimidated his opponents by “bluffing them into overestimating his intellectual prowess, ” and that Taunton himself was more knowledgeable about all things theological, so he takes a kind of childish pleasure in besting the lion in winter, who in his youth at the Oxford Union would have crucified an inferior opponent such as Taunton. […]

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About Science Salon

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason and the public interest in science, the Skeptics Society is pleased to announce the next two intimate Science Salons featuring an “in conversation” between Dr. Michael Shermer and professor of cognitive science, Dr. Benjamin Bergen (October 16) and cosmologist and theoretical astrophysicist, Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan (November 13). Dr. Shermer will discuss the guest’s latest science book or research project in a dialogue format, followed by an intimate conversation with the audience that allows more interaction with the guest than a formal Q&A.

IMPORTANT TICKET INFORMATION: Advance tickets are required. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Purchase by calling the Skeptics Society office at 1-626-794-3119. Seating is limited. $50 per individual (includes a reserved seat, autographed copy of the guest’s book, hors d’oeuvres and wine).

WHAT THE F

What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves (book cover) Benjamin Bergen (photo by Keegan Uhl)

Photo by Keegan Uhl

Dr. Benjamin Bergen is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, and in his new book he explains why profanity is so appealing to us. Let’s face it, we all swear. Whether we’re happy or mad, uttering a four-letter word seems to be a natural occurrence for most of us. But why do we swear, even when we know we’re breaking cultural taboos? Why are some words off limits in certain countries or deemed offensive in past centuries but are considered perfectly tame in others? What does all this g*ddamn swearing tell us about our language and our brains? Bergen has the answers as he illuminates the controversial and complex nature of profanity and its relationship on our culture.

Order What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves from Amazon.

Call 1-626-794-3119 now to reserve. This salon is more than half sold out.


MAPPING THE HEAVENS

The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal The Cosmos

Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal The Cosmos (book cover) Priyamvada Natarajan (photo by Gabe Miller)

Photo by Gabe Miller

Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan is a cosmologist and theoretical astrophysicist from Yale University, specializing in dark matter, dark energy, and black holes. She also holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship of the Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is passionate about sharing science with the general public and in her new book she provides a tour of the “greatest hits” of cosmological discoveries—the ideas that reshaped our universe over the past century. The cosmos, once understood as a stagnant place, filled with the ordinary, is now a universe that is expanding at an accelerating pace, propelled by dark energy and structured by dark matter. Priyamvada Natarajan is at the forefront of this research—an astrophysicist who literally creates maps of invisible matter in the universe. In the book, she not only explains for a wide audience the science behind these essential ideas but also provides an understanding of how radical scientific theories gain acceptance. The formation and growth of black holes, dark matter halos, the accelerating expansion of the universe, the echo of the big bang, the discovery of exoplanets, and the possibility of other universes—these are some of the puzzling cosmological topics of the early twenty-first century. Natarajan discusses why the acceptance of new ideas about the universe and our place in it has never been linear and always contested even within the scientific community. And she affirms that, shifting and incomplete as science always must be, it offers the best path we have toward making sense of our wondrous, mysterious universe.

Order Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal The Cosmos from Amazon.

Call 1-626-794-3119 now to reserve.

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